Campaign expenditures by independent groups are skyrocketing in this election cycle: non-political party independent spending in Senate and House races totaled $147.5 million through mid-October, a 73 percent increase over such spending in mid-October 2008. One of the more active groups is the American Action Network, a 501(c)(4) that just began a $19 million ad campaign against House Democrats in 22 districts. The group has refused to say who funds their often-misleading ads.
As ThinkProgress noted when the group was formed, AAN is controlled by a number of very wealthy Wall Street Republicans, including a former Goldman Sachs CEO and the founder of Home Depot. The founder of the group is Fred Malek, a former Nixon aide who has become quite wealthy on Wall Street, earning a net worth of between $200 and $300 million through various corporate jobs and as founder partner of the private equity firm Thayer Capital Partners.
Malek is notorious as the “Jew counter” in President Richard Nixon’s administration: he made a list of Jewish employees in the Bureau of Labor Statistics at Nixon’s behest, and was involved in reassigning or demoting those workers. But as the New York Times pointed out this weekend, Malek has significant baggage from his campaign fundraising roles during the Nixon era:
The Committee for the Re-Election of the President was also illegally hauling in many millions of dollars from corporations, many of which felt pressured into making contributions. [...]
[S]ome players shaking the corporate money trees for nonprofit groups this year cut their teeth in the Nixon re-election campaign. There is Fred Malek, a founder of the American Action Network, whose members include many well-known Republicans, like former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Mr. Malek was the White House personnel chief in 1972 and helped dispense patronage for major Nixon donors as well as serving as deputy director of Creep.
Back then, Mr. Malek was interviewed by Hamilton Fox III, another Watergate prosecutor, and acknowledged that some of the campaign’s activities might have “bordered on the unethical.”
In addition, the Washington Post previously detailed how Malek designed a “responsiveness program” in the Nixon federal government which was explicitly intended to “politicize the federal government in support of Nixon’s reelection.”
Malek has close ties to the conservative campaign fundraising structure. On the board at AAN is former RNC chairman Ed Gilliespie, who along with Karl Rove helps coordinate the mega-spending group American Crossroads. AAN and American Crossroads share an office, and of course Rove, too, is a former Nixon campaign vet.
As noted, in the Times piece, Malek was investigated for his role in Nixon’s campaign fundraising. In today’s post-Citizens United climate, he’s a celebrated mainstream player.